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Leopold May

by Susan J. Ainsworth
March 4, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 9

Leopold May, 88, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the Catholic University of America, died on June 17, 2012.

May earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1944 from the City College of New York. He then earned an M.S. in chemical engineering in 1949 and a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1951, both from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now the Polytechnic Institute of New York University). He also served in the Navy as a radio technician instructor from 1944 until 1949.

He began his career working in short-term positions at Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons, Brooklyn College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He joined Catholic University’s faculty in 1959.

A pioneer in applying infrared and Mössbauer spectroscopy to biological samples, May made major contributions to the fields of archaeology, ecology, and forensics. He collaborated with numerous universities and government organizations in the U.S. and around the world. After a serious accident, he retired from teaching in 1997 but was able to continue to conduct research until 2012.

He edited four books and authored or coauthored many book chapters and papers. In addition, he was managing editor and editor-in-chief of Applied Spectroscopy, later serving on its editorial board.

May received numerous awards and was a member of many professional organizations, including the Society for Applied Spectroscopy, for which he served as president in 1971. He was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1946.

May produced several calendars with dates of historical interest in chemistry, spectroscopy, and Mössbauer spectroscopy for the Society for Applied Spectroscopy. He also founded the Society for the Propagation of the Music of the Chemist-Composers.

He is survived by his wife, Evelyn; sons, Kenneth and Ira; and one grandson.

Obituary notices of no more than 300 words may be sent to Susan J. Ainsworth at and should include an educational and professional history.


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